Shifting Metaphors For Shifting Realities On Your Personal Finance Trek

DH = Dear Husband

The marathon metaphor

There are different metaphors that we encounter and sometimes adopt in personal finance. When DH and I started our journey out of debt in June of 2012, I was set for a marathon. I knew it would take years, and I knew that we would be successful only with endurance and a stubbornly steady pace. There would be slow stretches when DH’s business income was low or when our expenses were high. There would be easier stretches with bursts of speed in months of good business income and low expenses. And there would be L-O-N-G flat stretches to test our resolve and build our endurance.

The uphill cycle metaphor

After our first year of debt-reduction, we had to come to a full stop for many months in order to save for a new roof. While a marathon runner might stop for a minute to take a drink of water, I didn’t think that this prolonged stop worked with the marathon metaphor. But it worked for the cyclist who had to pull over to – let’s say, change a tire.

It was Dave Ramsey’s metaphor of the cyclist going uphill that first inspired our determination to get out of debt when DH and I listened to his CD book The Total Money Makeover. Ramsey describes the uphill ascent, so steep at points that you have to stand on your pedals to push through those next few inches, and the glorious feeling of reaching the summit, knowing that the rush of an easy downhill is within reach. Woohoo!

Our marathoning and cycling-uphill efforts brought us a great distance. $21,000 in consumer debt: GONE. $81,000 in business debt: GONE. In June of 2015, we were debt-free except for the mortgage.

The core strength metaphor

Following Ramsey’s steps, we now had to shift our efforts. No longer would our focus be strictly upon debt-reduction. We would definitely stay on the path to debt-freedom and pay off our remaining mortgage, but there would be other efforts happening at the same time. We would save up an emergency fund to see us through 3-6 months of a loss of income. We would beef up our investments to 15% of our combined gross income.

This diversified focus made sense, but it had the effect of sucking my motivation. And it required a new metaphor. With money going in different directions, our progress seemed so much slower . . . and less satisfying, less exciting. I found the shift from debt-reduction to saving-and-debt-reduction disappointing. Rationally, I knew it was the right course of action, but in practice, it felt like too much effort for too little progress.

I knew by this point that making things right in personal finances was not about money. It was about character development. My own impatience was the obstacle here. A lingering immaturity, a persistent weakness. I needed to build up a new core strength in my personal finances. Just as a plank keeps the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen working together in harmonious balance, I needed a pf core that would keep ALL elements of a healthy money makeover – debt-repayment, emergency savings, short-term savings, mindful spending, long-term investments, giving – working together. So it was time to breathe deeply, hold on longer, and toughen up.

The surfing metaphor

I have come to realize in the last few days just how significant international economic factors can be for the individual’s efforts to get out of debt. DH and I live in Canada, and the Canadian dollar has taken a real plunge in value lately. In 2013, our dollar was pretty well worth a U.S. dollar. Today, it’s worth 70 cents U.S.

Most of the purchases DH makes to run his business are for American goods and services, and over the Christmas rush, he made significant expenditures. When he sorted out his business accounts last week, he was floored by how much his balance had been drained. There was no “extra” to put towards the emergency fund from all of the crazy hours he had put in over November and December. It had all been eaten away by the “extra” he had to spend because of our weak dollar.

The idea of navigating larger forces beyond our control made me think of surfing, a sport in which your own skill and strength combine with natural forces moving the ocean. Sometimes, you catch a wave and enjoy the adrenaline rush of a long ride. Sometimes, those natural forces shift, or you misjudge, and a wipe-out results. At other times, all you can do is paddle and wait – and wait – and wait . . . until the next wave comes.

I surfed the internet for surfing analogies, and I found a great one at, of all places, the site In a post entitled “When Life Gives You Waves, Learn to S.U.R.F.” Frank F. Lunn writes, “Change, difficulties, and adversity will happen. Your only point of control is the surfing skill set you develop to adapt and make the best of whatever comes your way . . . You cannot control the waves; you can only control your response . . .”

Lunn then spells out the S.U.R.F. Strategy:

  • Survey the situation
  • Understand your options
  • Respond based on your goals
  • Forward focus in action and attitude

Mixing metaphors

So as DH and I ride out this wave of a low Canadian dollar, we’ll keep running – and cycling – and holding our core-strength-building plank – as we watch for the next wave to ride. We won’t wipe out with this one. We’ve surveyed and understood, and we’re responding by keeping our focus forward.

Do you have a metaphor for your personal finance journey? Is it one of the ones mentioned here? Or something different? Your comments are welcome.

*Photo courtesy of Cpl. Megan L. Stiner 


13 comments on “Shifting Metaphors For Shifting Realities On Your Personal Finance Trek

  1. LOVE this, Ruth! It really feels for us like 2015 has been an uphill journey the whole way. January of 2016 has seen smooth-sailing progress so far, but it’s tough for me to be patient. Now that things are running more smoothly and the obstacles of 2015 are behind us, I am wishing for the months of 2016 to fly by so that we can be done with our consumer debt. And like you, I recognize the character flaw of impatience here. So, I work on that, and on trusting in God as we work our tails of to dump consumer debt for good in 2016.

    1. I am really looking forward to hearing your consumer debt elimination story! And I encourage you in your growing patience. There’s a confidence that comes with patience – an absence of panicked anxiety. That’s got to be just as good as debt-freedom, and I certainly want it. 2016 is looking good for you, Laurie!

  2. I basically love every time that people use metaphors other than marathons. I officially hate marathons (I’ve run two, so I’m allowed to judge).

    I frequently refer to financial management as a tennis match. You don’t have to win every point to win the match, and no matter how far ahead you are, you can’t “not lose” the match. You have to win the last two points, no matter what.

    1. I like it! A tennis match. “You don’t have to win every point to win the match,” and you have to actually win – “not losing” is not enough. I’d like to dig deeper into that “win” vs. “don’t lose” idea. Thanks Hannah.

  3. Part of debt freedom is not only getting out of debt, but committing and planning so that you stay out of debt. It sounds like you’re taking the appropriate measures to make that a reality. Keep up the great work

    1. The savings part of our plan is a Dave Ramsey thing. Believe me, if we were doing this on our own steam, not only would we be much slower in our debt repayment, we would be neglecting savings in the name of debt repayment. It is certainly our determination to get out of debt and stay out. Being humble enough to learn from Ramsey and the whole blogging community has been – and will continue to be – key.

  4. Your core strength metaphor is a really eye opening reflection on the reality of switching focus. Debt payments can be a very clear and progressive goal. The challenges of shifting from that to a more long term approach or mindset is something that’s often not discussed or highlighted.

    1. Thank you, Mike. I have found it a more challenging shift than I would have guessed ahead of time. More core strength needed for me.

  5. I love the metaphors you used. With Surfing and FI it takes the needed skill of Patience. Waiting for the right wave and positive changes in the FI plan. You need to be in the water thru the bad to catch the good. I am glad patience is a skill anyone can learn. Even in my early retirement I find my ability to be patient a necessity and it still serves me well.

    1. How awesome that you’re one of the few who is actually IN early retirement. I have often been brought face-to-face with my impatience through my journey out of debt, and your comments about patience make me eager (but not impatient) to develop more of it. Enjoy your FI thoroughly, LeisureFreak Tommy!

  6. I don’t think I’ve ever used a metaphor to capture our financial journey. I do love the surf metaphor! As someone who has surfed a real wave I can relate. There are good waves, bad waves, but you are still out in the water having fun. Surfing can be therapeutic and can be done for a long time. My farther-in-law still surfs and he’s in his late 60’s. Surfing is mainly about patience and balance. Things you need with you money and when catching a wave.

  7. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Brian. “Patience and balance” are exactly what I, personally, need to develop more in my management of money – and probably other areas of life too. Cool about your father-in-law. I’ve never surfed, but people who have seem to absolutely love it. You have definitely surfed a challenging financial wave well! So glad you’re surfing a different kind of wave now : )

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